For nearly 20 years, Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked to shift global seafood production in more sustainable directions—because fishing and aquaculture, done the wrong way, can do great harm to the ocean and ocean wildlife. What started as the Aquarium’s consumer-focused Seafood Watch program has blossomed to engage major seafood buyers, producers and governments in seafood-producing countries around the world.
More recently, the Aquarium has stepped up to address another growing threat to ocean health: a tide of plastic pollution.
The global impact of our work on both fronts took several steps forward this week at the international Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia—in ways that will be felt in Southeast Asia and beyond.
Since the inaugural conference in 2014, Our Ocean has brought government officials, business leaders and NGOs together to make measurable commitments that will improve ocean health. This year, the Aquarium is a part of four commitments: two to make our global seafood supply more sustainable, and two to reduce the use of ocean-polluting plastic.
Transforming red-listed shrimp to green
On October 30, Minh Phu Seafood Corporation, a major global shrimp processor and exporter, announced plans to improve the environmental sustainability of 20,000 small-scale shrimp farms in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. The farms aim to achieve a sustainability level equivalent to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program’s Best Choice rating by 2025.
The commitment is a partnership with the Aquarium, seafood inspection company SGS, and the Asian Seafood Improvement Collaborative (formed by seafood producers in the region, with the Aquarium’s support, to improve the sustainability of the region’s shrimp farms and fisheries). The collaborators will also work with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to improve governance and support sustainable development.
The commitment will address key challenges for small-scale shrimp farmers by significantly scaling up the improvement projects, training and tools they need to become sustainable producers. The collaborators will provide funding and technical support for infrastructure and improved farming methods, engage in government outreach, and build capacity through training and education.
Vietnam is the world’s second-largest producer of shrimp; this commitment is expected to impact about 10 percent of the country’s black tiger shrimp production by 2025.
“Overcoming the unique challenges of small-scale farming in Southeast Asia will require new approaches and tools,” said Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “Our commitment illustrates how the private sector can invest in the sustainability of small producers to make measurable changes that support livelihoods, a sustainable blue economy and the health of the ocean.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who works with the Carnegie Endowment and the Aquarium on the initiative, acknowledged that the work won’t be easy. “But this commitment shows the resolve to roll up our sleeves and build capacity that is necessary to address the unique needs of small-scale shrimp farmers in the Mekong Delta,” he said.
Investing in sustainable seafood across Southeast Asia
Another major seafood producer, Thai Union, announced an investment of $73 million through 2025 to improve the sustainability of seafood production in key regions, with a focus on Southeast Asia.
The investment is part of a new collaboration called SeaChange IGNITE, a partnership between the Aquarium and Thai Union’s Chicken of the Sea brand, with support from the Carnegie Endowment. SeaChange IGNITE aims to drive improvements throughout the seafood supply chain—bringing more sustainable seafood products to the North American market.
Initially, the collaboration will focus on blue swimming crab and farmed shrimp, and address key challenges in moving them toward Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch “Good Alternative” and “Best Choice” ratings. In turn, this will provide new opportunities to supply sustainable products to the North American market.
“For nearly 20 years, Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked to move global seafood production in a more sustainable direction,” said Julie Packard. “This commitment is an important first step in accelerating sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture in Southeast Asia and will serve as a model for engagement for NGOs, governments and seafood producers.”
The announcement represents a major private-sector commitment to engage industry and governments to advance sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
“Thai Union is very excited to work with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Monterey Bay Aquarium on this important new sustainability initiative,” said Dr. Darian McBain, Thai Union’s global director for sustainable development. “This is a great example of how collaboration among key stakeholders can effectively address the sustainable development challenges in modern supply chains.”
Aquariums worldwide unite to cut plastic
At least 200 aquariums from around the world are joining together to raise public awareness of plastic pollution, and the toll it takes on our ocean and freshwater habitats.
The Aquarium Conservation Partnership—a group of 22 U.S. aquariums, which the Monterey Bay Aquarium co-founded and currently chairs—is a collaborator on the initiative, which is led by the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme. Other partners include the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the European Union of Aquarium Curators and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.
Science is increasingly shining a light on the threat that plastic poses to marine animals and ecosystems. Every nine minutes, the weight of a blue whale in plastic (about 300,000 pounds) makes its way from land to the ocean. Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade, this pollution enters the marine food web; scientists estimate up to 90 percent of seabirds have eaten plastic.
Aquarium leaders recognize that the solution goes beyond beach cleanups and recycling. That means making and using less plastic in the first place.
A circular economy for plastic
The Aquarium also endorsed The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to end plastic pollution at its source—by making and using less of it. The commitment, a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and United Nations Environment Programme, is signed by more than 250 businesses, policy makers and NGOs.
Because about one-third of all plastic is made for packaging, it’s encouraging that the signatories—including Coca-Cola, Unilever and L’Oréal—represent 20 percent of plastic packaging produced globally.
Signatories envision a “circular economy” in which plastic never becomes waste—or ends up in the ocean, where it can harm marine animals from seabirds to turtles to whales.
The commitment aims to: reduce problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging through innovation; increase plastic reuse, recycling and composting; end the use of fossil fuels to make new plastic; and eliminate hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging. Five venture capital funds have pledged more than $200 million to create a circular economy for plastic.
By engaging in partnerships like these, the Aquarium aims to reduce the sources of plastic pollution—and create a healthier future ocean.
Featured image: Bermuda chub responding to the presence of a greater barracuda. Photo © Ron Wooten via Wildscreen Exchange